18 Ways to Make Cardio Un-Suck

We have all heard this before, “cardio sucks”.

The traditional form of walking on a treadmill at the beginning or end of the workout works, but is BORING.

I’m not hating it by any means, there are some that love this and others this is all they can do, for those of you that fit in those previous categories don’t bother reading this and keep doing what you’re doing. I still respect the hell out of anyone that gets up and does something, so this is NOT a cardio treadmill bashing session.

This blog is for those that WANT to avoid to the monotony of high incline walks for an hour or those that want to do something else besides a treadmill, elliptical or bike.

I want to get you to think that cardio doesn’t always have to be on the treadmill; in fact some of the best, and most effective for fat loss, cardio workouts I’ve ever done were NOT on a treadmill. They were a combination of bodyweight, weights, sprints and even just as simple as having a kick butt playlist on my iPhone.

What I have below are some of the cardio ideas that we do here at Rowlett Transformation Center. These won’t work for everyone but I can bet that you’ll find SOME idea that I have listed that will help make cardio not seem so bad to you.


Weight Room Ideas

1. Take less rest between you weight lifting sets – It’s tempting to take several minutes between sets and maybe even some programs to dictate that for performance reasons. If you are NOT on a program that has a long rest protocol then I suggest cutting your rest down to under 60sec between sets and begin working your way to 30 secs or even 15. Now you’ll have to drop the weight a bit BUT your heart rate sure won’t drop.

2. Do giant sets A giant set is a set of 4+ exercises in a back to back fashion, this isn’t circuit training. Pick a group of exercises that you have planned that day and do them ALL back to back with NO rest until the end of your 4th or 5th exercise out of that group or cluster. After that last exercise rest for about 2min then repeat for how ever many sets you have. Good luck.

3. More explosive movements between sets- Squat jumps, seal jacks, box jumps, plyo work all done for reps can really SPIKE up the heart rate. An example would do a set of 20 squat jumps between your upper body sets, rest for 30sec and go back to work. Give it a shot and I promise after about 3 rounds you’ll hate that idea but you’ll feel like you sprinted a football field. Not a bad combination.

4. Switch to higher reps with big movements. – Do a set of 20 squats, deadlifts, overhead press, etc.. Big movements take a LOT of work from your body and if you do those big movements for higher reps your lungs may burn more than your muscles. Just be forewarned that your legs may be sore for DAYS, but you’ll love the results of getting great muscles with a great calorie burn.

5. Get “x” number of reps/sets in a specified time – This one is VERY misleading and I remember the first time I did this I was laying on the ground after a 50min workout wondering what happened, ha!  An example would be doing 1,000 total reps of your workout as fast as possible. Or 500 reps of a body part, or get as many reps of squats in 10min with a challenging weight. Just make sure to record your number and try to beat it next time. Try it and tell me what you think.


Cardio Machine Ideas

1. Sprint Intervals – This is a quick a dirty work out but it DOES the trick. On a treadmill you’ll set the speed at a pace you can run no FASTER than 60sec (to start with) THEN you’ll run at that pace for 20sec and rest for ONLY 40sec. You’ll repeat this pattern for 10-15min. Don’t hang on and DON’T reduce the speed when you’re gassed. May not sound like much BUT phew…. you’ll feel it quick!

2. Running for time (400-800m) – What I have found is that people just get bored with time, but when was the last time you ran a short distance for time? An example workout would be run 400m as fast as you can, rest for 2min and repeat that for 4-6 rounds. OR run 800m at a fast pace and repeat that for 4-6 rounds. Next thing you know you just knocked out several miles and you’ll be whipped.

3. A mixture of x time/distance followed by a core movement – You can combine this system with the previous ideas above. Pick a time or distance that you want to do and afterward do a midline or core movement for “x” reps or time. Example: Run 800m then do 25 v-ups during your rest. Your lungs, legs, and ABS will all be burning.

4. Max Distance – On occasion you just want to see what you can do, it’s natural with weights but sometimes you’re just curious on the bike or treadmill. Pick a distance and see how fast or how long it takes you to get there and next week or in several weeks try to beat it. 

5. Partner workouts – A while back a partner and I got on the treadmill and we would both alternate 45sec run with each other. One person would run for 45sec, and the other would try to beat or match that distance or time, we would go back and forth until someone gave out or we hit our required time. This is great when you don’t want to suffer alone and having someone else there will make you work harder and be honest with yourself about time.


Track Ideas

1. Sprint – Fast, simple and effective way to take your cardio up several notches. Just pick a distance and rep it out! 100m for 10 rounds is a GREAT start, just run 100m as fast as you can and as you get more comfortable then as you can add more reps, distance or both. Another favorite of mine is 50m for 15-20 reps and your only rest is your walk back.

2. Bodyweight exercise to a sprint – One of my favorite variations is do 20-40m of a walking lunge followed by 40-80m sprint, walk back and repeat for 10 rounds. Maybe “x” number of squat to “x” distance run; push-ups to a sprint; etc… The list goes on! Not only will your muscles get a fantastic burn but you knock out a VERY effective cardio workout.

3. Bring weights, bands, a jump-rope – You don’t just have to run at a track you can do one of the follow methods above and bring your own tools. Jump rope between sprint sets just takes your cardio to another world; doing a band exercise straight into a run or even a dumbbell exercise before OR after a run. Mix it up and have fun with it.

4. Going backward and sideways – I felt this needed its own category since so many people feel that the only way to get in an effective track workout is to always run forward. But have you ever just tried running backward for “x” distance THEN try to run forward? Or how about doing a side shuffle to a  BACK peddle. Even getting out cones and running four corners, back peddles to front runs, etc.. One of my favorites is 50m back peddle to a 100m sprint for 10+ rounds, phew!!! The options are endless and, in my opinion, when ever I see some one integrate this into their routine I’ll notice that they tend to have healthier joints since they have trained themselves to move in all directions.


Other Ideas.

1. Play – This is one of the most under rated activities to do for cardio. JUST play. A pickup game of basketball, tag with your kids (they’ll outlast you any day), Frisbee with the dog, racquet ball with your friends, even consider joining a local sports league. Just go out, play and have fun.

2. Spend time on a kicka$$ music play list – Music motives you! Sit down one evening and work on your iTunes, Spotify, youtube, what ever playlist you have and get those songs that just make your head nod and body move. You know the ones I’m talking about, next thing you know you’re WANTING to go do SOMETHING. THOSE songs. Even starting out with a few epic songs and just repeating it is enough to make a cardio session not so bad anymore.

3. Get family friends a trainer involved – Cardio is always better with company. Get a training partner or a trainer to push you and get your mind off the boredom, maybe going out for a hike or run with your spouse, kids or friends. Just get someone else involved and soon you may make a habit out of an evening cardio session with them.

4. Sign up for a race – I had a client do this and it reminded me how powerful of a motivator it was when you signed up for a race. Doesn’t have to be long, even a 5K is plenty, but when you sign up the next thing you know you WILL start training for it. You’ll start training for a 5K, a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder. Races and events like those have a funny way of making you do those things you didn’t like to do without the work seem so bad.




Just like with weight lifting you will want to make sure that you are keeping track of your progress with cardio. Keep track of your avg. time with your 400m runs, keep track of your times with your sprints, your sets, and reps, etc… With anything else in life making forward progress is essential. You don’t want to lift the same weight that you did last week, you don’t want to make the same salary that you did last year, or you don’t want your golf game to NOT get better.

You want to progress.

Pick one of the above methods, track it and BEAT it next time. This will not only push you harder but it will make sure you get better results.


In Health and Awesomeness,


Travis Merritt, BS, CPT, (and other cool letters behind the name) is the Owner of Rowlett Transformation Center in Rowlett, TX.

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